Do You Have Drive? Here’s What REALLY Motivates Us.

pacman food

We’ve been told our whole lives that rewards and accountability are what get us to actually follow through on our promises.

It’s the reward that drive us to complete a difficult or undesirable task; it’s the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps us going when times get tough.

Heck, every RPG in existence is built around this premise too: “just one more quest, because then I’ll get a new level which will let me buy a new sword!”

We then use accountability to drag us out of bed on days when we just don’t feel like doing our job. We can either lose a $50 bet to our friends for skipping, or we can just do the darn workout!

We’re big fans of rewards and accountability around here at Nerd Fitness, but what if that’s just the beginning?

It turns out, there’s another type of motivation that is the REAL predictor of long-term success…and it has nothing to do with punishment or rewards!

If you’ve been on a roller coaster, losing weight and gaining weight and going through months of success followed by months of apathy…

If you’re tired of knowing what to do to get healthy, but just can’t freaking GET yourself to do it…

Today is for you.

What’s YOUR drive?

black white road

When I first started working out 14 years ago, it was because I was sick of being the weak, scrawny kid.

I wanted to build muscles and get big and strong and try to make the high school basketball team (after failing the first time).

My goals were very externally-focused: “If I work out, then I will build muscle and get better at sports and look better and thus have more confidence.” I was so focused on the scale and how I looked in the mirror that I based a lot of my self worth on that outward appearance.

However, something funny happened along my journey: I fell in love with exercise and stopped worrying about those things that I neurotically tracked daily.  

These days, I step on a scale maybe once a month. I’ve stopped counting calories completely and no longer freak out if I don’t get enough protein each and every day. I eat to fuel my progress.

As a result of these changes, I’m actually now in the best shape of my life and feel more confident!

I don’t go to the gym to exercise; I go to the gym because I truly enjoy my time there.

I love the feeling of chalk on my hands and wrists as I set up for muscle ups, an exercise I couldn’t complete this time last year. I love that fraction of a second, halfway through a rep, where I wonder “am I gonna be able to get above these rings?” and my body responds with “hell yeah!”

I love feeling like freaking Wolverine, my body’s central nervous system in berserker mode after setting a new personal best on deadlifts (take that spine!).

I love working on my handstands, and that moment where time stops when I’m in perfect balance upside down – my scatterbrained mind suddenly finding focus and repeating one phrase: “don’t move.” It’s taken me months and months of practice to get to that point, and each day an extra second held in perfect balance is a win.

I love the weird looks I get from bros doing bicep curls (or power curtsies) in the squat rack as I hang up olympic rings to work on my front lever and back lever holds.

I love that sound each plate makes as it’s added to the barbell, clink!

I love blasting Moby’s “Mysterious Ways” (pretending like I’m Jason Bourne) after my workout is done, feeling like a million bucks.

No matter how good or bad my day is going, no matter what is going on with my friends or with my business or with my family, the gym is always there, challenging me to see if I’m a little bit better than I was last time.

I can’t wait for my next workout.

Drive: What Really Motivates Us


In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel H. Pink argues that to get the best out of ourselves, only focusing on rewards and punishments isn’t doing us any favors.

When Pink introduced the concept of a third, more important type of drive early on in his book, I initially panicked.

After all, I’ve been telling people for years about the importance of rewards and accountability…and then read there’s a more important type of motivation!?  That “the carrot and the stick” is a flawed system!?

So, have I been lying to you all these years then?

Absolutely not!

For us gamers who have spent countless hours consumed with leveling up and getting to the next level, this philosophy actually fits PERFECTLY with our personalities.

We desire meaningful challenges, we want control, and we want to feel like the things we’re doing are making a difference.

Think about the last GREAT game you played.  I bet it:

  • Provided just the right amount of difficulty that challenged you to get better.
  • Gave you a complete sense of control over your character’s future.
  • Showed you progress and provided you with a sense of accomplishment.

It turns out, the same holds true for a great job or solidly designed exercise/healthy living plan.  If we can check off those three boxes for other parts of our lives, we’re going to have a greater chance to be more successful in the long term.

It even explains why the Nerd Fitness philosophy been successful in helping person after person get fit and STAY fit: We do everything we can to focus on challenge and meaning!

Allow me to explain!

Carrots and Sticks


When it comes to health and fitness, rewards and punishment can be the FIRST step to kickstart one’s transformation, and often works quite well in the short term. 

When we’re trying to get ourselves to do something we don’t want to do, having a reward system when we succeed or penalty system when we shirk our responsibilities is a good start.  However, oftentimes these systems can break down in the long term and we end up back where we started.

I noticed something while reading Drive and thinking about Nerd Fitness – In almost every single one of our success stories, there has been a recurring theme: people who have had lasting success and finally cracked the code essentially have all said the same thing:

“I never thought I’d say this, but I actually look forward to exercising now.”

Think about that previous statement for a second: these are people who most likely either never exercised a day in their lives or generally despised exercising, but they all reached a point where they truly, genuinely look forward to the activity.

This isn’t just a new habit. They’re fulfilling something deeply-rooted within our DNA that CRAVES exercise and physical activity.  We’re designed to move and be active – it’s just lost in us because it’s no longer a requirement for our survival like it was back in the Fred Flintstone days.

Luckily, what has been lost or missing can be found!

Lasting healthy success comes when you go from “ugh, I feel weird when I exercise and don’t like it” to “I feel weird when I DON’T exercise.”

It’s like a flip is switched. Suddenly insurmountable challenges become something to be attempted and eventually conquered. Positivity and “if I could do that, what else am I capable of?” become the rule, not the exception.

It’s an upward spiral.

There’s a reason why one of the pillars of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion is built around this principle: “we exercise because we enjoy it!”

Shifting to Drive


I’m a huge fan of doing whatever necessary to get people started with exercise, be it a competition, bribery, outright blackmail (kidding…kinda!) or whatever.

However, I think that long term success is much more likely when that motivation to change or exercise or eat right BECOMES part of what you do and who you are, not something you HAVE to do:

  • “If I do this exercise, I get a prize. If I don’t eat right, I get punished” becomes “I exercise and eat right because it makes me feel good and I truly enjoy it.”
  • “If I do this 30 minute workout, I can mark it off and keep the streak” becomes “I can’t wait to workout and see how much I can accomplish in these thirty minutes”
  • “If I don’t work out today, I owe my friend $50” becomes “if I don’t work out today, I’ll feel off – like something is missing.”

So, how do we get from the first half of these examples to the second half? And why not just stick with just a video-game style reward system forever?

As pointed out in Drive: “The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road.”

In fitness, with a goal of losing 20 pounds for a wedding, most tend to go about it in a really unhealthy way:

  • Starving yourself and being miserable.
  • Taking weight loss pills.
  • Doing things like cleanses and detoxes (which I’m not a fan of).

In every one of the situations above, because the only goal and benefit for taking action is to “lose 20 pounds,” as soon as that goal is reached, old behavior can return quickly.

So, instead of putting our sole focus on that end goal “fitting into these pants,” or “losing this amount of weight,” both of which are losing extrinsic goals in my mind…we want the focus to be on the process, and make them items we ENJOY:

  • I will work out in an enjoyable way three days each week
  • I will eat a vegetable or fruit that I enjoy with every meal
  • I will cook one healthy meal each day with loved ones

Think about these things…instead of “forcing” yourself to do something to reach some arbitrary goal…you’re selecting things to do that you enjoy rather than dread.

On top of that, you’re far more likely to sustain long-term success when you look forward to the activity in a genuine way…and it’s going to give you a MUCH better chance to get into “Flow”  which will increase your chances of winning significantly.

What the Flow?


Flow, a concept created by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is “is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

In nerd speak: you are having so much fun and so immersed in the activity at hand that you lose track of time.

Although the book Drive speaks about Flow in terms of work, it can also apply to healthy living too. Remember all of those success stories? They alllll started with “I wanted to lose weight” or “I needed to win a bet” and they all ended with “and now, somehow, I actually look forward to working out!”

How does that happen? Here are the three ways you can get yourself into flow:

  • MASTERY: Fall in love with improvement – if you enjoy strength training, you’re not just exercising, you’re improving. Every workout is tracked, and every workout is an opportunity to get a little bit better.
  • ENJOYMENT: Do it because you enjoy it – if you lose track of time while running, cooking, doing yoga, or rock climbing, you’ve found the activity that you need to spend more time doing! Stop spending time working out in a way that makes you miserable, and continue searching for the one you LOVE.
  • PURPOSE: Be part of something bigger than yourself – we have a massive community of Rebels (and message board members) working hard at improving their lives. Your fitness and health are inspiring more people than you probably realize. This isn’t just for you 🙂

I want you to constantly seek little changes and improvements that show you that you’re on the right path.

I want you to find a way to exercise that you love – that you look forward to doing.

I want you to remember that you’re part of a group that are all trying to improve, and we need you on our side.

Even if you’re somebody that “hates exercise,” I have no doubt that you are genetically designed to lose track of time doing some form of healthy living or physical activity – you just need to be on the lookout for it and not afraid to try new things.

Why are you healthy?


I want to hear from you.

I’d love for you to share your story like I did at the beginning of this article. I’d love to know why you got STARTED with exercise (was it to lose weight? impress a love interest? because your doctor said so?), and I’d love to hear why you KEEP GOING TODAY.

Ultimately, I want to know what the hell you’re doing here:

  • Have you fallen in love with the smell of a great meal that you prepared from scratch?
  • Do you lose track of time when you go for a run, and love exploring new parts of your home town?
  • Do you love how you feel after a hike, looking at the view from a top of a local mountain?
  • Do you love that feeling of complete badassery after breaking 5 boards with a well placed kick?

We have a community of over 200,000, and we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. I know we have a lot of readers who haven’t found their “love” for exercise yet, and that’s okay – that’s where you come in.

I want you to share your story – and I want your help in giving other people ideas on how they too can fall in love with living a better life.  Let’s help each other find that drive, and get into the FLOW!

Let’s hear it 🙂



photo source: arbyreed: carrots, Marco Bernardini: Pac Man, Bethan: Alarm Clock, SenseiAlan: Super/Shifter, Nick Harris: Autobahn, Martin Fisch: dream, Evan Leeson: Praire Sunsets

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    70 thoughts on “Do You Have Drive? Here’s What REALLY Motivates Us.

    1. Hey everyone I love the way health is becoming a big part of our lifes! I’m a soccer player and teacher, and I have recently run into something that’s going to CHANGE THE WORLD. It’s a health revolution… Please check this video out, and if you, friends, and family want to be a part of it please reply back. It is changing life’s in two ways health and financially!!! Here is the link to the video-

    2. Hey Steve! Loved this post! My love affair with physical fitness began in childhood as a crush. I loved running, climbing, playing every sport the back yard gang would let a girl join in on. After high school, I used several forms of eating disorders along with aerobics to maintain a very slim body type because that was the fashionable thing to do. Thankfully, marriage and motherhood got me away from that lifestyle but put me in a very low fitness level. I got the reality check during a family game of kickball that left my right ankle in a boot for 12 weeks. The friendly orthopedic doctor pointed out that my weight was too much for my ankle strength. Basically I blew a tire! After the boot, I began walking to start the weight loss and gave up my 2-Honeybun-a-day habit. I returned to college and was introduced to the most inspiring cross country coach who just happened to be assigned to teach the Walking 1 class (poor guy). His dry sort of sarcasm was not mistaken but he used the opportunity to encourage everyone to run. And I did. It was an ugly, awkward sort of run but I ran. I knew I ran terribly but I loved the feel of each mile so I stopped caring what I looked like and concentrated on how I felt. Then the very same coach encouraged strength training and a change in majors. Four years, more miles than I can count, and a degree in Exercise Physiology have placed me in the dream career of a lifetime. I work as a corporate wellness coach, group fitness instructor, and personal trainer. I am proud to hold the C.S.C.S and look forward to sitting for the N.S.C.A.’s TSAC certification. But the best thing about the decision to change – I fell back in love with being physically fit! And just like any love affair, I cherish every minute that I am working out. I stay with a workout until I have nothing left. I think about workouts when I’m not working out. How can I make them longer, tougher, more often. I miss a workout and I’m sad, mad, frustrated… And just like anyone in love, I want to tell everyone about my love interest at which I usually get a disgusted look or a roll of eyes. So thank you for sharing your passion with the world. It is great to know I’m not as weird as some people say .

    3. After I had my daughter, I was a bit delusional in thinking the extra baby weight would just fall right off. After all, I was still in my twenties and was running after a child! But after a year when I went to the doctor again and found that most of the weight was still hanging around, I knew I needed to do something. I wasn’t happy with what I saw when I looked in the mirror. And it just so happened that a co-worker of mine knew about my love of dance and that I was looking for some way to start exercising regularly. I started with Zumba and loved it! And once I started to see the pounds coming off, it only fueled the fire. Of course, that type of workout can do a number on your hips, so then I started to explore other options and found yoga. Between the two, I lost over twenty pounds and felt great! Of course, I did hit a plateau and was wondering what to do to take it to the next level. I ended up trying a kettelbell workout. That was love at first swing! I’ve been building strength ever since. I have found bliss between the kettlebell and the yoga….I recommend yoga to everyone! And I can’t imagine NOT doing those things! It really is about finding what you like and will stick with and you just never know…you might fall in fitness love!

    4. I have a drive of some sort. I would really like to NOT die at age of 24 that I just now am.
      But recently I discovered that my body does not produce enough dopamine for me to enjoy things, or get any kind of “rewarding” feeling from activities and less so from working out.
      I have couple of other dopamine related issues but they are more personal.
      I just don’t know what to say to doctors to make them start tests or something.
      That is because I have a history of depression and psychosis, and I know for a fact that they dig it up as a first thing when I say something completely unrelated.
      Its really a wonder that I got an appointment for tests after I complained about my loss of hearing.
      Well, you asked for my drive, not the complete description of our “welfare state” called Finland…

    5. Big time computer gamer here. Used to play WoW for hours a day. Then D3 came out and I played that. Still do, but have hit a gear wall and become bored. Realized one day that I am a giant lard-ass and that I need to get in shape. My daughters are getting older (15 and 17) and I want to be around for marriages and grandkids if those are in the cards.
      Took my 15 yo turkey hunting and couldn’t hang on a particular ridge climb. I had to stop and rest repeatedly. Coming back down, usually the easiest part, was terrible because my right knee was in agony! She runs the annual Thanksgiving 5K and this year my goal is to run it with her.
      My 17 yo is a Red Cross certified Lifeguard and Safety Instructor. I will never her first LG class when she was 15. My wife had told her that she wouldn’t have to take the swim test until after the training was done. Wrong! She had to take the test before she could even start training. She was nervous but she jumped in the water and passed the test. If she can do that even when she is scared of failure who I am to let fear stop me?
      So, honestly, I have EVERY reason to get better and absolutely NO EXCUSES for not doing everything in my power to do so. About three weeks ago, my wife and kids went out to a GS meeting and I hopped on the treadmill. I ran .75 miles and felt like I was going to die. But I didn’t hate running! And I didn’t die. A week ago I ran 2 miles in 27 minutes. I’m still on the ‘mill and I’m not fast but I will get there.
      In keeping with my 5K goal, I found C25K which led me to stronglifts which led me to myfitnesspal and, searching for advice, I found nerdfitness. I read Staci’s story and thought, “I can do this and I can get support here.” Now I look forward to going home and running, biking, or lifting every evening. I wake up early and instead of gaining another paragon level on my Wiz I either lift or bike.
      Thanks for this site! Thanks for the motivation!

    6. I think motivation is one of the biggest factors with working out. In the past I would go to the gym because I felt like I had too; honestly the results didn’t come until it became something I love and want to do!

    7. I started out becuz my goal was to get into a size 12 skirt (cost me $5) & I was in a size 14/16.

      I began walking on a manual treadmill (yes, manual) & came to LOVE the feeling of getting warm, then that first trickle of sweat, then the pouring.


      By the time I looked up, I was in a size 4! Way too small, but got up to a pretty fit size 8, where I’ve been for over 15 years…

      Thanks, Steve, for sharing your story of rededication. After a knee fracture this past January, I am so there.

      Your story was just what I needed, just when I needed it!


    8. I think that the “drive” is different for everyone. Fitness certainly is a metaphor for life. Its never easy. It has to be done right and there are no short cuts.
      Good article

    9. I’ve always lived what I thought was a fairly active lifestyle and thought I was in pretty decent shape. Compared to my life now I feel like I was asleep.

      I started out as a tall, gangly, pale, nerd that never imagined I could amount to anything physically. I would watch anime like DBZ and Berserk and wish I could be that badass.

      While attending a university at age 24, I finally decided to start going to the university fitness center (it was free) and put on that muscle that I always wanted. I would use running as my warmup for the weight machines. After a few sessions, I decided running was a lot more fun and I have been working on extending my distances ever since (but went back to ignoring muscle). Now I can perform feats of endurance that I could only dream of in the past and I’m only just getting started. There is something superhuman feeling about being able to run sustained for multiple hours. The people around me have no idea why I would want to run and like to make disparaging comments but that’s okay because I’m having a great time and I’m getting outside more.

      After finding this great community I decided to start focusing on my full body instead of just my running. Seeing other scrawny guys put on muscle has inspired me; In a society of “can’t” I’m finally seeing examples of what I can be. I’ve started photographing myself monthly to chart my progress. I can do pistol squats now (1 or 2)! So flippin’ exciting!

    10. This post is great. People’s comments here even greater. 🙂 I feel like celebrating every time someone finds “the drive”!
      I’ve always liked physical exercise, but I got really slow and lazy some years ago. When I found some passion in climbing, I started exercising more.
      Today, my drive is huge. I go in flow-mode almost everytime I get to the gym, bouldering, riding horses… sweating, being sore, hungry and thirsty make me feel so alive. It’s a drug. I just need to be careful not to over-exercise. I don’t know what happened, but I just got addicted 😀 I get a bit sad and frustrated when I know it’s not gonna be a gym-day.
      I just need to get my plate right. I consume too much sugars and fats, still, even though my diet is good otherwise. But chocolate i’ll never give up! 😀 I’ll get the shape I want even with chocolate. I’ll show you all!!

    11. I found this site totally by chance while trying to figure out just where to start in getting healthy/exercising after a long hiatus. Before, I was an exotic dancer and doing some yoga, and though I burned mad calories at work, I also suffers from shin splints, crap knees, and lower back pain from the repetitive stress. Drinking didnt help, shockingly enough.
      Once i finished up my degree I moved abroad to take a teaching position. Ive been living in Mexico in a teeny apartment in a small town for the past year. After a couple bouts of intestinal parasites and a lot of work related stress, my weight dropped way down to 48 kilos (round 100 lbs) and I’m 5’6″ so I knew that wasn’t good. I was always exhausted, my jeans hung off my hips, the bags under my eyes had bags of their own. 6 months ago I quit smoking and that was just the beginning of getting better.
      When I saw this site I got super excited! Like, hey, I’m a nerdy weirdo who wants to get in shape! This is for me! Once I read
      Staci’ s story I was like, ” I’m in.” Even though I can’t afford to officially join the academy yet, the Beginner Bodyweight Workout has been a godsend. I started doing the circuits about a month ago. I am up to about three workouts a week now a d try to do dynamic stretching, yoga, and lots of walking around in the fresh air on my ” rest” days. I started visiting the farmers market and cooking like a fiend, pretty much fresh veggies and fresh meat or fish every day. I’ m still getting the hang of it all, and headed back to the states very soon, where I want to take a powerlifting class. 🙂 It is so empowering to know that I van ALWAYS work out, “level up” a little bit at a time, no matter where I am or how much external stress I have. Thank you to Steve, Staci and the other folks who keep this awesome program up and running and for all the folks who shared their transformations. I’m back up to 115 lbs and feeling a world better. You guys saved my ass (literally)!

    12. Hi, Steve ! I started reading Nerdfitness almost a month ago and I find all the articles really good in order to motivate myself. I have been training on and off for the past 2-3 years. I now started training AGAIN almost a month ago ( it’s my 4th week now ) and eating PALEO up to 90% of the time. I stopped all the sodas, alcohol, sugar and processed foods. I only cook for myself now and I love it. When in restaurants I only order chicken or pork, beef with some veggies. I feel energized all the time now and I don’t need any coffee to get through my day ( I work a desk job from 9am to 6pm ). Managed to lose around 8 pounds so far and 5” off my waist. I train 4 to 5 times week ( depending on whether I am traveling for the weekend or not ). I still manage to stay healthy when on little vacations. So my suggestion to everyone on NerdFitness is : start with the PALEO diet and start some form of strength or bodyweight training. Give it a month and see the results for yourselves. I am 100 % sure that you will indeed love it ! Cheers !

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